Types of Court-Martial in US Military (2023)

Whenever a member of the United States military is charged with a crime, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) will dictate which criminal justice procedures apply to their case and the penalties they face if convicted. There are three types of court-martial in the US military, and each applies to different types of offenses.

A Colorado court-martial defense attorney is an invaluable asset for any service member facing court-martial proceedings. Your legal representative can help you understand the procedures ahead of you and assist you in crafting an effective defense against the charges that have been filed against you. The Law Center P.C. regularly represents members of the US military in all types of court-martial proceedings and can help with your impending case.

Summary Court-Martial

The lowest level of court-martial proceedings under the UCMJ is the summary court-martial. Only enlisted service members can be tried in summary court-martial, and this procedure is designed to dispose of the most minor offenses under the UCMJ. During summary court-martial, the accused does not have the right to legal counsel, but they may hire private defense representation if they wish.

Summary court-martial is presided over by a single judge. This process is typically reserved for offenses that are more serious than what would typically lead to nonjudicial punishment but not serious enough to warrant a special court-martial.

Special Court-Martial

The special court-martial process is the intermediate level of UCMJ trial proceedings. The defendant has the right to legal representation, and the case will be presided over by a single judge or a panel of at least three service members and a judge. The defendant has the right to request that at least one-third of the panel be enlisted service members. Generally, the special court-martial process is reserved for offenses that would qualify as misdemeanors for civilians.

General Court-Martial

The highest level of military criminal court trial procedures is the general court-martial. This procedure may be presided over by a panel of no less than five service members and a judge, and the defendant has the right to request trial by judge alone as long as they are not charged with a capital offense.

The civilian equivalent of general court-martial would be criminal prosecution for a felony offense. The judge overseeing a general court-martial has the power to assign penalties as stipulated by the UCMJ and the Manual for Courts-Martial. Additionally, a general court-martial must be preceded by an Article 32 investigation, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.

Finding Defense Counsel That You Can Trust

The military criminal justice system is typically faster than the civilian criminal court system when it comes to processing cases, so a defendant charged with a UCMJ violation has very little time in which to prepare their defense. It is imperative that if you find yourself in this situation, you seek out an experienced military criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The right attorney can review the charges against you, identify weaknesses in the evidence and testimony presented against you, and assist you in determining your most viable defenses. The attorneys at The Law Center P.C. have years of experience representing members of the United States Armed Forces in all types of criminal cases, including all levels of court-martial. If you are facing any such case, our team can provide the responsive defense counsel you need.


Q: What Is the UCMJ?

A: The UCMJ is a specific set of laws maintained and enforced for members of the US armed forces. Every service member in every branch is beholden to the Articles of the UCMJ, and each branch of service has unique procedures under each article. The UCMJ not only provides clear codes of conduct but also outlines criminal offenses and prescribed penalties for each offense.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a Court-Martial and Nonjudicial Punishment?

A: Court-martial is the equivalent of a criminal trial against a member of the military. Nonjudicial punishment is an alternative to a court-martial if a service member’s commanding officer does not believe that the service member’s conduct is severe enough to warrant criminal charges. Commanding officers typically have discretionary power to enact whatever nonjudicial punishments they deem appropriate to fit an offense.

Q: Does a Court-Martial Mean Jail Time?

A: If a US service member is convicted in a court-martial, incarceration is just one of many possible penalties they could face. The severity of their penalty depends on the level of the offense they committed. It’s possible for a defendant to be removed from military service under dishonorable discharge, face forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and face incarceration in a military prison.

Q: Why Should I Hire a Denver Military Defense Attorney for My Case?

A: If you are facing a court-martial, your military career could be at stake, and the penalties for conviction may extend past your military service and negatively impact your civilian life for years to come. It is crucial that you find defense counsel you can trust to guide you through your case so you can avoid the worst possible penalties for conviction, and a private defense attorney offers the greatest chance of accomplishing this.

Q: What Will It Cost to Hire Defense Counsel for a Court-Martial?

A: Most criminal defense attorneys charge hourly rates for their representation, so the more time an attorney needs to spend on a client’s case, the more the client pays in attorneys’ fees. A defense attorney’s hourly rate usually depends on their experience level. Always take time to review an attorney’s billing policy before signing a contract for their representation.

The attorneys at The Law Center P.C. can provide robust criminal defense representation if you face a court-martial for any UCMJ violation. Our team can provide responsive legal guidance through every stage of your proceedings, from an initial hearing to your court-martial proceedings. Contact our team today to schedule a consultation with a Denver military defense attorney and find out how we can assist with your impending case.

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